NFL Nation: Brandon Marshall

INDIANAPOLIS -- Consensus first-round pick Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper complimented Chicago Bears assistant Mike Groh's attention to detail when asked Friday to describe the impact Groh had on the wideouts' spectacular collegiate career.

Groh, the club's highly regarded wide receivers coach since 2013, worked with Cooper at Alabama when he served as the Crimson Tide's receivers coach and recruiting coordinator from 2011-2012, helping lead the program to back-to-back national championships.

"Coach Groh is a great coach," Cooper said at Lucas Oil Stadium. "He's really specific. He's really diligent in the way he wants to teach us. He'll go out and watch a lot of film on other guys, NFL wide receivers, and come back and try to teach it to us so we can be the best we can be."

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects the Oakland Raiders selecting Cooper with the No. 4 overall choice.

The Bears jettisoned the majority of the coaching staff upon the firing of Marc Trestmam, but the team reached an agreement to extend Groh's contract on Jan. 30, making him one of only two holdovers (along with outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt) from the old regime.

Under Groh, the Bears have had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons -- Alshon Jeffery (2013, 14) and Brandon Marshall (2013).
A closer look at the areas the Broncos could address in the draft. We'll continue today with a look at the linebackers, which are scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: As they install Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, they have plenty to work with at the position, starting with impact edge rushers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to line up at outside linebacker. Add in Brandon Marshall, the team's leading tackler this past season, to move into one of the inside linebacker spots as well as the Broncos' hope for a healthy return of Danny Trevathan, and that's a quality group. But the Broncos will still be on the hunt for a bigger, early-down presence on the inside to go with building some depth behind Miller and Ware.

Three players the Broncos could target in the draft:

Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami (Fla.): Perryman measured out at 5-foot-10 5/8 inches tall at the Senior Bowl and weighed in at 242 pounds. He is a consistent tackler who plays with power in the middle of the field and has shown good range to with good instincts. When you look at the game video you see he prepares and is rarely fooled.

Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State: Like Perryman, if the Broncos want a chance at him they would likely have to commit their first-round pick (28th overall) to do it. McKinney is a tall, athletic player with a big reach and may even translate to one of the outside linebacker spots because of it. But he usually squares up blockers in run defense, sheds and plays the ball well. He's a taller player, so when he does miss tackles he misses them because he took on the ballcarrier too high.

Nate Orchard, OLB, Utah: Take a look at the Senior Bowl practices and you see a prospect who showed pass-rush skills, did just fine in coverage and understands how to hold the edge in run defense. He's got good size (6-3 1/4, 251 pounds at the Senior Bowl), a high-effort player who was a three-year starter. Knows how shed blockers and use his hands to keep himself in a position to make plays.
The Baltimore Ravens need a Brandon Marshall-type wide receiver. They just don't need Brandon Marshall.

He's selfish. He's a distraction. He's an "exhaustive presence," one Bears teammate told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Marshall, who is under contract with the Bears, created a stir recently when he asked Baltimore coach John Harbaugh about playing for the Ravens during an interview on Showtime's "Inside the NFL." There's no certainty the Bears are going to release Marshall, and ESPN NFL Nation Bears reporter Michael C. Wright believes Marshall should be back in Chicago in 2015.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall is a special talent at wide receiver but also comes with baggage the Ravens would be wise to avoid.
If Marshall does become available, the Ravens shouldn't be interested. Before you picture Marshall catching 100 passes from quarterback Joe Flacco, just imagine him in the same locker room as volatile receiver Steve Smith, who has indicated to the Ravens he wants to play next season. That would make for a good reality television show. It would be a disastrous pairing for a team looking to contend for a Super Bowl.

The idea of Marshall and Smith brings up bad memories of Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens in Cincinnati in 2010, when the Bengals went 4-12. It's difficult to keep two strong personalities at wide receiver happy and not let that affect the entire team. If the Ravens bring in Marshall, they might as well bring in Marshawn Lynch at running back and a psychiatrist for Flacco.

In theory, it makes sense the Ravens should want Marshall. He is the big, physical wide receiver the Ravens need to add to their offense. He was a Pro Bowl receiver in 2013, when current Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was his coach.

But I'm not buying that Marshall will be in a Ravens uniform in 2015, especially when you consider his past. He has been named in at least eight separate incidents of violence against women since he was drafted in 2006. Even though none of those incidents led to a criminal conviction, the Ravens can't put themselves in that type of situation after a year of dealing with the Ray Rice scandal.

Beyond that, there's a reason why a five-time Pro Bowl receiver has played for three teams. There's a reason why the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins couldn't wait to get rid of him and why the Bears may be thinking the same.

Marshall doesn't crave the spotlight. He's apparently obsessed with it. Last offseason, he signed his contract extension with the Bears on "The View." During the season, he challenged a trash-tweeting Detroit Lions fan to a boxing match and then explained it was part of an anti-bullying campaign.

The drama never ends. After a loss to the Dolphins this past season, Marshall's postgame theatrics in the locker room reportedly included calling out quarterback Jay Cutler and going after kicker Robbie Gould. A week later, Marshall walked off the field for a fourth-and-10 play while trailing the Patriots 45-7 and later responded, "That's wack, bro," when asked if he left because he was hurt, tired or frustrated.

Marshall is the most talented wide receiver the Ravens could get this offseason. The fact that he's had five 100-catch seasons is awfully enticing. It just comes with 100 headaches. The Ravens would essentially be replacing a high-character player in Torrey Smith with a narcissistic one in Marshall. The good teams know the value of chemistry over production. It's not a coincidence Marshall has never played in a postseason game in his nine NFL seasons.

The Ravens need to find a legitimate, young No. 1 wide receiver for Flacco at some point. There comes a time when the Ravens have to stop patching up their wide receiver position with 30-something receivers like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans and Steve Smith. The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have Pro Bowl playmakers in A.J. Green and Antonio Brown. Since 2010, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. have been drafted in the first round and have emerged as the best pass-catchers in the NFL.

Bryant and Thomas could be free agents this offseason, but the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos are expected to put the franchise tag on them. When you're a special talent at wide receiver, teams want to keep you. They don't cut ties like other teams have done with Marshall.

There's no question the Ravens need a playmaker like Marshall. They just need one without the distractions and drama.
PHOENIX -- It's been just more than four years since Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen decided he couldn't wait any longer, that he couldn't look at any more losses or empty seats in the team's home stadium, and fired Josh McDaniels in December of 2010, just 38 games into McDaniels' tenure as the 12th head coach in franchise history.

Now the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and preparing for Super Bowl XLIX, McDaniels said he's learned some things, understands what happened and he hopes for another chance to be a head coach again.

"I think I know now, each team is different, each player is different, I don't believe everybody has got to be the same," McDaniels said. "I think I'm a better listener than I was then. I was young, made a lot of mistakes, learned from them -- hopefully -- try to be a better person, a better coach.

[+] EnlargeNew England's Josh McDaniels
Photo by Elsa/Getty ImagesPatriots offensive coordinator and former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels says he would be "a better listener" as a head coach now.
"I learned every day from it," he added. "The players on the team are the reason why we win, you don't have to treat them all identically, they're not going to be all the same, your ability to lead and motivate those guys differently is important."

McDaniels' tenure with the Broncos started in flamboyant fashion -- 6-0 in 2009, including a win over the Patriots -- but things unraveled from there as the Broncos went 2-8 the rest of the way and started 3-9 in 2010 before McDaniels was fired. There was a Spygate scandal in 2010, when a former Broncos employee took video of a portion of the San Francisco 49ers' practice in Wembley Stadium during a London trip, and plenty of grumbling in the Broncos' locker room from players who believed McDaniels wasn't responsive to their questions or concerns.

In all, he was 11-17 as the Broncos' head coach. While he oversaw the drafts that included Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Zane Beadles and Tim Tebow, there were plenty of draft misses. He also traded quarterback Jay Cutler before he had coached Cutler in a single practice and then traded wide receiver Brandon Marshall the following year.

McDaniels said on multiple occasions in Tuesday's media day that he believes he would be "a better listener" in the job now.

"When you do something like that for the first time you feel like you have to run through everything and be in charge of too many things and sometimes that is a significant negative," McDaniels said. "I have tried really hard in St. Louis and then here back in New England. We really gather ideas, we listen to one another and try to do the best thing for the offense in this particular case and it has really been a great thing. Our atmosphere on our staff has been very healthy and a big part of that is that we have a lot of guys that can contribute and it doesn't come from one source. I made a lot of mistakes there and you know that."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked Tuesday why things didn't work out for McDaniels with the Broncos.

"I mean, Josh did a great job for us, he's always done a great job for us," Belichick said. "... [He] does a great job with the offense, works hard, very well prepared, great rapport with the quarterbacks and the entire offensive staff and the players, and I love having Josh on our staff. Really, I mean, I'm lucky to have a great staff and very fortunate to have Josh. You'd have to ask Josh about what his experiences were somewhere else. I don't know."

"He's a great coach, a great friend," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "... I hope he's my coach for as long as I keep playing."

McDaniels did receive interest in recent weeks for head-coaching jobs in Atlanta, Buffalo and San Francisco. But all but one of the open jobs have been filled already this offseason with the Falcons job expected to go to Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in the days following Sunday's game.

Following the 2013 season, McDaniels did turn down the opportunity to interview with the Cleveland Browns. Tuesday, he made no secret he would like another chance to be a head coach "for a team that sees it as the right fit, for them, and that it's the right fit for me."

"... Yeah, I would love to do it again," he said. "I think the most important thing to me is to just be in the right situation and just be in a place where I feel good about being. There are a lot of great teams and great places out there. I happen to be in a good situation for myself right now and for my family. If it comes up again and it is like there it is, that is the right spot, then I would love to do it again and give it another shot."

Denver Broncos season report card

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- From the moment the Denver Broncos got up off the mat after a 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII a year ago, they said 2014 would be different.

The Broncos never hid from their Super Bowl-or-bust beliefs. Offensive players said it, defensive players said it and as they won their fourth consecutive AFC West title, the Broncos, at least, had themselves in the mix to live up to it.

But much like the 2012 and 2013 seasons, 2014 ultimately became another year when the Broncos aced the class week after week, but simply failed the final. And it cost coach John Fox his job.

Team MVP: There are plenty of candidates. Quarterback Peyton Manning threw 39 touchdown passes, second in the league. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. played his way into some hard-earned recognition as one of the elite at his position. The Broncos had two 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders while running back C.J. Anderson positioned himself as a future 1,000-yard rusher as the team’s lead back. But in the end linebacker Brandon Marshall gets it. He went from practice-squad guy to the first-team defense in 2013 to every-down linebacker in ’14. He led the team in tackles (110) despite missing two games with a foot injury. Marshall played in all personnel groupings and gave the defense some much-needed versatility in a year when two starting linebackers (Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving) ended up on injured reserve.

Best moment: There were plenty of double-take moments. There was Anderson’s improbable 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Oakland, just minutes from his hometown, when he seemingly ran through, or around, half the Raiders’ defense. There were Demaryius Thomas’ seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games. Or Harris' sustained excellence in the season. Still, tough to top history. On Oct. 19, in a 42-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Manning passed Brett Favre as the league’s all-time leader in touchdown passes with 509. Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for an 8-yard score with 3:09 remaining in the first half of the game for that 509th career scoring throw. By season’s end Manning had pushed his career regular-season total to 530.

Worst moment: The 24-13 playoff loss to Indianapolis meant yet another season of Super Bowl ambitions that were not met. But in terms of singular moments that were difficult for the Broncos to overcome, Trevathan's third left leg injury of the season may have been the toughest. Trevathan, who was the team’s leading tackler in 2013, suffered a fracture at the top of his tibia in training camp, then Oct. 12 suffered another left leg fracture and, finally, Dec. 14 suffered a dislocated left kneecap against the San Diego Chargers.

2015 outlook: The Broncos face whether Manning will return. On Christmas Eve, Manning said he would be back in 2015, but then backed off that statement following the team’s loss to the Colts Sunday. After the game, Manning said “I could not say that" when asked if he was coming back in '15. Beyond that the Broncos have 17 free agents -- unrestricted or restricted combined -- including Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton, Wes Welker and Rahim Moore. They have a core of playmakers on a team that has won four consecutive division titles, but the offensive line needs some attention. With the clock ticking on Manning's career, the Broncos need to decide whether Brock Osweiler is next in line or if there is more work to be done there.
DENVER -- Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said Friday he believed he was ready to play in the AFC divisional round game against the Indianapolis Colts, and Sunday Broncos head coach John Fox agreed.

Marshall, the team’s leading tackler, will be in uniform and back in the lineup for the playoff matchup. Marshall has not played since the Broncos’ Dec. 14 win in San Diego because of a foot injury.

Marshall said following Friday’s practice he felt the best he has since before the injury and that “in my mind, I know I could go. ... I can go.’’

Fox said Friday he wanted to see how Marshall responded after Saturday’s practice. It’s no small thing to have Marshall back in the lineup given that before his injury, Marshall had seven games in which he played every defensive snap.

He missed the final two games of the season and still played 81.2 percent of the defensive snaps for the season.

Guard Orlando Franklin and safety David Bruton Jr., who suffered concussions in the regular-season finale, will both play in Sunday’s game.

The Broncos had no big surprises among their game-day inactives, but it is worth noting Jeremy Stewart will be the No. 3 running back in the game, behind C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Juwan Thompson, who has dealt with hip and knee injuries of late, was one of the game-day inactives.

Also inactive for the Broncos: wide receiver Cody Latimer, cornerback Tony Carter, tackle Paul Cornick, tackle Michael Schofield, tight end Dominique Jones and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was formally listed as questionable for Sunday’s AFC Divisional Round game against the Indianapolis Colts in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

But Marshall, the team’s leading tackler, who has not played since the Broncos’ Dec. 14 win in San Diego because of a foot injury, said he believes he crossed a hurdle in his recovery during Friday’s practice.

"Definitely," Marshall said following the practice. "(Friday) I felt the best, I was able to get out there and sprint like I haven’t sprinted in three weeks. I feel good, we’ll see what happens as far as the lineup."

Marshall has practiced on a limited basis all week, including Friday. But indications are, unless Marshall has some kind of setback or doesn’t look comfortable in the team’s on-field work on Saturday, that he would be back in the lineup against the Colts.

Before his injury Marshall had seven games when he played every defensive snap. He missed the final two games of the season and still played 81.2 percent of the defensive snaps for the season. Friday, Marshall said he knew before practice he was going to have a good day.

"I got past it, (Friday) was the day I really woke up and felt better, I was more confident when I was practicing," Marshall said. "And when I was running I felt great."

Despite missing the last two games of the regular season, Marshall finished with 36 more tackles than safety T.J. Ward -- 110 tackles for Marshall to Ward’s 74.

"In my mind, I know I could go," Marshall said. "I know I could play. It just depends on what the coaches want to do, what the training staff wants to do. In my mind I can go, so we'll see what happens."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos got everything they could out of a playoff bye and now it’s a matter of making it pay off in Sunday’s divisional-round game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Broncos are as healthy as they’ve been since early October. Wednesday’s practice was the first time every player on the 53-man roster practiced since Oct. 3.

All of the Broncos took part Thursday, including linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), guard Orlando Franklin (concussion) and safety David Bruton Jr. (concussion). Marshall was formally listed as limited in the practice while Franklin and Bruton practiced fully.

Marshall, who is the team’s leading tackler and has missed the last two games, is still on track to play at least some against the Colts.

Defensive end Quanterus Smith (knee) and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (knee) were also limited Thursday. All of the team’s other players took part fully in the workout, including tight end Julius Thomas.

Thomas, who suffered a left ankle injury Nov. 16 against the Rams, has just six catches since the injury and no touchdowns. Broncos head coach John Fox was asked following Thursday’s practice how important it would be for the Broncos’ offense to have Thomas return to his early-season form when he led the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions.

“No more or less than anybody else we’ll have active on Sunday,’’ Fox said. “You reach this point in the season, whether it’s late regular season or early playoff season, guys are playing with different things … but he’s performing well and we expect him to perform well on Sunday.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- At the moment it’s pretty clear that the Denver Broncos and Brandon Marshall are on the same page.

The Broncos would certainly like their leading tackler back in the lineup for this Sunday’s AFC divisional round game against the Indianapolis Colts, and Marshall would certainly like to be back in the lineup as well. Marshall, who is the team’s leading tackler, has missed the past two games since suffering a left foot injury Dec. 14 against the San Diego Chargers.

Marshall returned to practice on Monday and practiced again on a limited basis Wednesday.

"I feel all right," Marshall said. "I’ve just got to work through the kinks and … it’ll be better. I’m not going to say it’s a hundred percent, it’s getting there. I just got to go out there and keep working and we’ll see what happens."

Asked if he would be ready to play this Sunday if it wasn't a playoff game, Marshall said: "I don’t know, I don’t know if I want to answer that question, so we’ll move on to the next question. That’s the goal -- hopefully I’ll be playing."

Several of Marshall’s teammates, including cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, have expressed the belief Marshall will play against the Colts and why it’s important for the Broncos.

At least one spot where it would help would be against the Colts’ tight ends -- Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Even with Marshall in the lineup that kind of matchup has been a trouble spot with opposing tight ends having scored nine touchdowns this season, including three by Antonio Gates.

"It’s a great compliment to know that your teammates think highly of you," Marshall said. "I guess I’ve made an impact on everybody to make them think that way. I’m just happy, I guess a guy people look to make plays on this team. … We know their tight ends are big-play receivers."

Allen and Fleener tied for the Colts’ team lead in touchdown catches this season -- with eight each -- one of those a 41-yard catch-and-run for a score against the Broncos in the regular-season opener.

"We want everybody back in the lineup to be our best," Harris said. "That includes Brandon."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos surrendered 29 touchdown receptions in the regular season, a product largely of opposing offenses trying to play catch up against the Broncos' own high-scoring offense.

Overall only the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers surrendered more touchdown receptions, but for a defense that finished the regular season No. 3 overall, No. 2 against the run and tied for ninth in sacks, the real match-up issue may be hidden within that number.

Of those 29 touchdowns, nine have been scored by opposing tight ends, including three by Antonio Gates in two meetings with the Chargers, one by Rob Gronkowski (with 105 yards receiving) and three touchdowns by opposing tight ends over the last five games of the regular season.

And that is why the Broncos continue to hope linebacker Brandon Marshall's recovery continues to go well. Marshall, who suffered a left foot injury in the Broncos' Dec. 14 win in San Diego, practiced Monday for the first time since the injury.

"Good to see him out there," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "He's not quite himself obviously, he didn't take much of the team reps … still a long week, still a lot of days left. He'll be ready by Sunday."

In Marshall's absence the Bengals and the Raiders were able to isolate the Broncos linebackers, particularly Todd Davis and Corey Nelson, in pass coverage. The Bengals' Jermaine Gresham finished with nine catches and a touchdown in the Broncos loss in Cincinnati.

"I think the guys who've played have done a good job," said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "But we hope Brandon gets back."

Marshall is the team's leading tackler, with 113, and has been the Broncos' every-down player at the position, playing in the base, nickel and dime packages.

His potential return, and he's still a question mark, is timely. The Colts' tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener were tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns each while Fleener was third on the team in catches with 51.

Allen caught a 41-yard touchdown pass in the regular-season opener against the Broncos, still his longest pass play of the season.

"Whoever is out on the field has to make an impact," Knighton said. " ... We want Brandon back in there, but no matter what happens, like I said, when they put the ball down whoever is out there has to get the job done."
DENVER -- After saying running back Ronnie Hillman looked “very good’’ in practice Friday, Denver Broncos head coach John Fox followed through Sunday by putting Hillman in uniform for the regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

It will be Hillman’s first game back in the lineup since he suffered a left foot injury Nov. 9 against the Raiders. Hillman had been a full participant in all of the team’s practices this past week.

Before his injury, Hillman had taken a turn as the Broncos’ lead back earlier this season with 100 yards rushing in the win over the New York Jets and 109 yards rushing in an Oct. 23 win over the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos will be happy to have his speed back in the lineup. Of the team's eight runs of at least 20 yards this season, Hillman has three – all three came in a three-game span in October. He’s also had two of the team’s three runs of at least 30 yards.

Hillman’s return comes at a good time since Juwan Thompson (knee, hip) was one of the Broncos’ seven game-day inactives, so Hillman is expected to be the No. 2 back behind C.J. Anderson.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who suffered a left foot injury in the Broncos’ win in San Diego, did not practice this week and, as expected, was also one of the inactives. Marshall did work with the strength and conditioning staff this week and would certainly benefit from the bye in the wild-card round the Broncos would earn with a win Sunday.

Safety T.J. Ward, who suffered a neck injury in Monday night’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, was limited in Friday’s practice and was also one of the Broncos’ inactives. Ward will be available for the Broncos’ first playoff game.

Also among the game-day inactives for the Broncos were: tackle Paul Cornick, tackle Michael Schofield, tight end Dominique Jones and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos continued through their preparations Friday for the regular-season finale, the chances continue to increase that running back Ronnie Hillman will be part of the mix on offense Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

Hillman, who has missed the last six games after suffering a left foot injury Nov. 9 against the Raiders, practiced fully again Friday. It meant Hillman was a full participant in all of the team's practices this week.

Before his injury, Hillman had taken a turn as the Broncos' lead back with 100 yards rushing in the win over the New York Jets on Oct. 12 and 109 yards rushing in an Oct. 23 win over the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos will be happy to have his speed back in the lineup. Of the team's eight runs of at least 20 yards this season, Hillman has three -- all three came in a three-game span in October -- and he's had two of the team's three runs of at least 30 yards.

"He's got good burst, good explosion, same things you saw before the injury," said Broncos head coach John Fox following Friday's practice. "He looks to be back in that form and we'll see how that goes, he hasn't played football in six weeks. Get nervous a little bit about that, but he has a good week of practice."

Hillman was formally listed as probable for Sunday's game.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who suffered a left foot injury in the Broncos' win in San Diego, did not practice this week and was formally ruled out of Sunday's game. Marshall did work with the strength and conditioning staff this week and continues to progress.

He would certainly benefit from a Broncos win on Sunday, which would give the team a bye in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Safety T.J. Ward, who suffered a neck injury in Monday night's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, was limited Friday and listed as questionable. Given the nature of the injury and the way Ward plays in the defense, the Broncos may be inclined to hold him out Sunday.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (hip) was also limited Friday and listed as questionable, but is expected to play. Reserve tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) was the only other player limited in Friday's practice.

Again the Broncos had lengthy list of other players with injuries on the report who took part fully in Friday's practice, including Peyton Manning (right thigh), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) and running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle). All are listed as probable and expected to play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tucked within a long injury report as the Denver Broncos prepare for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Oakland Raiders was running back Ronnie Hillman taking part in his first full practice since he suffered a left foot injury Nov. 9 in the Broncos' first meeting of the season with the Raiders.

It was also Hillman's first full practice since Nov. 7. Hillman has practiced at least some during the last two weeks, but has missed the six games since his injury.

And as defenses continue to pack the middle of the field to take away the Broncos' favorite routes in the passing game and crowd the line of scrimmage in the run game, Hillman's speed to the edge could be a welcome addition back into the offensive huddle.

"We've had a chance to watch him all week, participate and he's obviously further ahead than he was this time a week ago," said Broncos head coach John Fox following Wednesday's practice. "And the fact we're on grass, not on Astroturf, lot of variables, but I like what I see."

The Broncos have had a wave of illness go through the locker room in recent weeks with defensive end Derek Wolfe and quarterback Peyton Manning among those who have felt the effects.

Wednesday linebacker Lamin Barrow, defensive tackle Mitch Unrein and guard Manny Ramirez were all held out of practice because of illness. Linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) was also held out of practice.

Safety T.J. Ward (neck), who was injured in the fourth quarter of Monday's loss, took part in practice on a limited basis. Ward underwent X-rays at the stadium Monday night to go with some additional tests, including an MRI, on Tuesday after the team had returned to Denver.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (hip) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) were also limited in practice.

The Broncos also listed 13 other players with injuries on the report who took part fully in Thursday's practice, including Manning (right thigh). Tight end Jacob Tamme, who has dealt with a rib injury in recent weeks, was listed with a foot injury and took part fully Wednesday.

Left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) and running back C.J. Anderson (left ankle) were also among the players who took part fully in Wednesday's practice.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 22, 2014

CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos' 37-28 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

What it means: The Broncos have spent much of the season with their Super-Bowl-or-bust mentality out front. But once again, they showed that might be a pipe dream if they can't smooth out their exceedingly rough edges on the road. Denver's stingy run defense was creased repeatedly, and the Broncos snuffed out their own rallies on special teams, thereby allowing the Bengals to secure quality field position, which they turned into key points. Toss in a few dropped passes and four interceptions by Peyton Manning, and now not only are the Broncos out of the running for home-field advantage in the AFC, but they're also going to have to fight just to earn a first-round bye.

Stock watch: If you already crossed 1,000 yards receiving two games before the end of the season, it’s difficult to raise your game. But Emmanuel Sanders continues to do just that. His diving, one-handed catch for a 32-yard gain in the third quarter was just another right-time, right-place play in a season that has already featured plenty. Demaryius Thomas, with his ninth 100-yard game of the season Monday, is the unquestioned Alpha receiver in the offense, but Sanders has been everything the Broncos had hoped for (and a little more) when they targeted him in free agency.

Target acquired: The Bengals showed they did their homework when it comes to attacking the Broncos' defense. With linebacker Brandon Marshall out with a foot injury and Danny Trevathan on injured reserve, the Broncos have been forced to dive deep into the depth chart in some of their specialty packages. Todd Davis -- an undrafted rookie the Broncos claimed last month off waivers from the New Orleans Saints -- and Steven Johnson both took their turns as the inside linebacker in the Broncos’ six-defensive back look. Both were targeted by Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Jackson used a variety of formations to get the two chasing in coverage. The Broncos are hopeful they can get Marshall back in the postseason, and Monday showed just how big a part of their defensive success he has been this season.

Game ball: Omar Bolden deserves a look for his kickoff return to open the second half and start a Broncos rally, as does Demaryius Thomas for doing what he so often does in creating problems for most defensive plans. But in the end, Sanders' catch was just the kind of play the Broncos needed at a point when they most needed it.

What’s next: The Broncos close out the regular season against the Oakland Raiders (3-12) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 41-17 on Nov. 9 in Oakland. The Raiders forced two early interceptions in that game, but the Broncos powered through to the win with a rally started by C.J. Anderson’s catch-and-run touchdown.
CINCINNATI -- With running backs C.J. Anderson (left ankle) and Juwan Thompson (knee, hip) having missed some practice time this past week, the Denver Broncos had some initial concerns about their depth at the position.

But with an extra day of rest leading up to Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Anderson and Thompson were both ready to play in Paul Brown Stadium.

And with Jeremy Stewart serving as the No. 3 back in the game, the Broncos made Ronnie Hillman (left foot) a gameday inactive and did not move Kapri Bibbs up from the practice squad, a move they likely would have made if Thompson had not been ready to play. Hillman has practiced the last two weeks, but he is still not all the way back from his injury and has now missed the last six games.

Also among the Broncos gameday inactives for the first time this season was defensive end Quanterus Smith. Smith, who is still looking for his first career sack, had played in the previous 14 games.

Mitch Unrein was kept active for Monday’s game with the Bengals expected to try and muscle up on offense and run the ball plenty at the Broncos' defense. The Broncos had four defensive tackles in uniform Monday -- Unrein, Terrance Knighton, Marvin Austin Jr and Sylvester Williams -- when they often go into a game with three.

Also among the gameday inactives for the Broncos were: cornerback Tony Carter, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), tackle Paul Cornick, tackle Michael Schofield and tight end Dominique Jones.